On September 16, 2010, Middle Village was hit with one of the worst storms ever to strike New York City. Heavy thunderstorms were predicted but at approximately 5:30 P.M. the skies turned from day to night and hail and rain pelted the area. At 5:40pm the oncoming storm suddenly burst into 125 mph winds and within seconds trees were thrown down with such force that it is a miracle no one in our neighborhood was killed. The lone fatality occurred when a woman was killed by a falling tree after she pulled over on the shoulder of the Grand Central Parkway. It was later confirmed that the storm was described as two tornadoes that created a “microburst.”
After a few minutes, as the wind subsided, residents ventured outside their homes and looked with amazement as their neighborhood resembled a warzone. Many large trees, several on most blocks, were toppled. In Juniper Valley Park giant mature trees were down, falling onto Juniper Boulevards North and South in record numbers; blocking the traffic that was pouring in from the normal rush hour. The streets looked like scenes from a late-night horror movie with sidewalks resembling earthquakes and large trees on houses and cars. We lost hundreds of trees which were toppled in seconds.
After the most violent storm ever to hit New York City, the NYPD decided that the 104th Precinct could handle the chaos of downed power lines, hundreds of trees blocking streets and homes, and thousands of cars spilling off the clogged Long Island Expressway (LIE).
Immediately after the 5:40pm storm hit, the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood was notified by Patrol Borough Queens North headquarters that they were to hold 18 special duty officers due to end their patrols at 6:00pm.
As hundreds of calls poured into 911 operators from frantic residents, a call came from NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza in Manhattan to the 104th Precinct stating that the 18 officers weren’t needed and could go home. The result was that Middle Village was left essentially on its own with the normal contingent of precinct officers. On a good day the officers assigned to the 104th precinct have their hands full patrolling the maze-like 7.5 square miles of the precinct. However, the night of the storm, conditions in Middle Village were anything but good.
Without police coverage or guidance for the many cars and trucks that emptied into our area, driving down the wrong way on one-way streets, Middle Village was left on its own to deal with the chaos. With the Long Island Expressway and Grand Central Parkway closed off due to accidents and the mayhem of downed large trees and no emergency 911 access, it was a night that we have to make sure can never be repeated.
A JPCA media blitz was launched to get attention to Middle Village which, for several hours, was neglected by city government. A similar storm hit in September 1985 in a small section of Middle Village, Maspeth and Elmhurst that downed hundreds of trees, and that storm was barley reported by the media.
Television stations called the JPCA, and president Robert Holden appeared on many of them with other JPCA board members.
Trees and wires were down all over our neighborhood and power was knocked out in 8,000 homes. Dozens of cars were flattened as trees trapped many residents in their homes.
FDNY and Con Ed emergency crews were out but the devastation was so massive that few roads were open. For some strange reason, the NYPD did not call a Level III or IV emergency that could have sent much needed reinforcements to the 104th Precinct.
Help did arrive by midnight when Brooklyn precincts sent a dozen officers. However, with no 104th personnel available to guide the Brooklyn officers, they just sat in the precinct house for about an hour. At 1:00am the officers started to answer calls but at 2:00am the 12 officers were pulled to the 112th precinct.
Immediately the JPCA complained to the media about the slow emergency response. Protests were made to elected officials as well. JPCA received daily phone calls from Congressman Anthony Weiner, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and State Senator Joe Addabbo. They knew what happened and they were determined to help us with whatever they could do within the capacity of their office.
The residents on 84th Street near Furmanville Avenue were particularly hard hit and in their frustration they started a petition denouncing their Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and her lack of realistic leadership on that fateful night. St. John’s and All Faith’s cemeteries were hit extremely hard. All Faith’s lost more than 100 trees, some were 150 years old. Three hundred monuments were knocked down and several were completely destroyed. All Faith’s president Dan Austin estimated the damage to exceed $1 million. Both cemeteries lost several hundred feet of iron fences and there is still a good deal of work to do cutting limbs and branches.
JPCA Holds Town Meeting
Congressman Anthony Weiner’s office was very helpful in getting state agencies to attend the JPCA Town Meeting on September 23rd at Our Lady of Hope Auditorium. Particularly helpful was Marie Ternes, Weiner’s chief-of-staff. She worked around the clock in the days leading up to the meeting.
It’s too bad our councilwoman didn’t do the same.
Crowley not concerned about
lack of police coverage
For some reason Elizabeth Crowley is giving the NYPD a pass for not sending reinforcements on the night of the storm. At the very least NYPD must answer to our neighborhood as to what went wrong that night. It’s unacceptable that emergency calls went unanswered for a full 24 hours. Crowley has been arguing that there were enough cops out that night but the evidence points to the opposite.
Unsafe trees are everywhere
After a good amount of JPCA pressure through the media, the Bloomberg administration finally sent a dozen tree crews on Sunday, September 26th to Middle Village. Ten days after the storm, Middle Village finally got its fair share. However, most of the tree companies are now gone, yet hundreds of trees are in danger of falling and many more have dangerous limbs and branches ready to come down. Unsafe trees are now the number one danger to life in Middle Village. “There are literally hundreds of trees that are in danger of coming down on a windy day,” said Bob Holden. He said almost every block in the path of the microburst has very dangerous trees and limbs ready to fall.
On Thursday, October 14th Governor David Paterson announced that President Obama had approved the New York State’s request and has issued a major federal disaster declaration for the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island making them eligible for federal assistance to help recover from the September 16th severe storm and tornadoes. “This is certainly welcomed news for New York City and removes a tremendous financial burden,” Governor Paterson said. “The storm that spawned two tornadoes wreaked a path of devastation the likes of which New York City hasn’t seen in 25 years.”
The Federal declaration provides 75 percent reimbursement to the three boroughs for the costs of response, debris removal and repairs to public property. A preliminary damage assessment conducted by federal, state and local inspectors estimated damage and cleanup costs at more than $27 million.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not yet acted on the governor’s request for Individual Assistance program relief for homeowners, renters and businesses in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date after further evaluation.
Juniper Park Civic Association president Bob Holden’s ability to get media attention was key to putting out the truth of the Middle Village crisis. The FDNY and Con Edison were responding quickly but there was no response from the NYPD or Mayor Bloomberg. The residents of Middle Village pulled together and helped one another in the cleanup. Neighbor helping neighbor is the hallmark of Middle Village both in the past and today. That neighborly spirit is alive and well.
That spirit is also what motivates the leadership and membership of the Juniper Park Civic Association. We have no agenda other than the safety and well being of our residents. We always make a good faith honest effort to be realistic about the problems and most importantly to get the help we need from our city agencies.
On September 16, 2010 the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit was missing in action. The City of New York and the Bloomberg Administration abandoned Middle Village in the wake of two tornadoes that spawned a microburst which resulted in the worst storm ever to hit our neighborhood.